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As college students return, Colorado universities prepare for monkeypox

Several student health centers said they are providing testing for students, but not vaccine.

FORT COLLINS, Colo. — For the first time in two years, it looks like it a normal start to the semester at Colorado State University. But as students walk, bike and skateboard to class, their health center prepares for another virus: monkeypox.

"Here we go again," said Dr. Kathy Waller, director of CSU Medical Clinic Services.

Her team coped with the chaos of COVID-19, but she said she hopes monkeypox will be less disruptive. It's mostly spread through skin-to-skin contact or prolonged, close respiratory exchange.

"We don't think there's much risk of sitting in a classroom or going about your activities of daily living," Waller said.

But on a crowded campus, with kids in close contact in residential halls, cases might pop up, she said. The campus health center has room in its vaccine fridge for monkeypox vaccine, but it doesn't have any shots yet, partially due to short supply.

Other Colorado campuses also don't have monkeypox vaccine for students but said they can provide testing for students who might have the virus.

"Medical Services providers can provide educational materials and facilitate access to the post-exposure vaccine and treatment for those testing positive for monkeypox," said a University of Colorado Boulder spokesperson in a statement.

He said the CU campus clinic could facilitate access to vaccines after exposure.

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Both CSU and the University of Northern Colorado said they are working with the state health department to bring a mobile vaccine clinic to campus. A mobile clinic doled out doses of COVID-19 and monkeypox vaccine at UNC on Monday and at CSU on Tuesday.

"We feel really well-prepared through the experience we’ve had with COVID-19 to respond to monkeypox," said Dale Pratt, UNC interim vice president of finance and administration. "We are aware that monkeypox is less severe in its risk than coronavirus has been."

While university representatives said they were less concerned about monkeypox than they were about COVID-19, the isolation procedures for monkeypox are more stringent. The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends staying isolated for the duration of the illness, which can last 2-4 weeks – a major disruption for students who need to go to class.

"Similar to the isolation procedures we had in place for COVID-19, the university will have accommodation options available to students," a University of Denver spokesperson said in a statement.

> Video below: Dale Pratt, UNC's interim vice president of finance and administration, talks about the university's preparation for monkeypox:

CSU will also provide isolation options for students but faces a unique challenge: With record enrollment, there are fewer available isolation rooms on campus, Waller said.

"We certainly learned a lot about isolation from the COVID pandemic and we are prepared with a few isolation rooms on campus," she said. 

CSU, CU Boulder, DU and UNC all said campus officials are prepared to communicate prevention tips and treatment options to students as the semester gets underway.

"Managing infectious disease outbreaks is part of what we do," Waller said.

But after a long two and a half years of COVID-19, she said she's concerned about public health messaging fatigue among students.

As for fatigue among staff, who have similarly slogged through years on the frontlines of pandemic: "It's a change," she said. "I think we're probably more tired of COVID."

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